Elon alums recognized for work in the classroom
Tyronna McKoy Hooker G’09 and Debra Briggs Hennelly ’88 have been honored in recent weeks as Teachers of the Year in their respective home counties in North Carolina.
Hooker, a 2009 graduate of Elon’s master of education program and a teacher at Graham Middle School in Graham, N.C., was named the 2010 Teacher of the Year for the Alamance-Burlington School System. Hennelly ’88, a mathematics teacher at Southeastern Stokes Middle School, was named the 2010 Teacher of the Year for Stokes County.
For both women, education wasn’t a first choice of career, though it’s become a passion both are thankful they discovered.
Hooker originally pursued a career in criminal justice after graduating from North Carolina Central University. While serving as a therapeutic foster parent for the Elon Homes for Children, a child described to her the difficulties he faced in school as a result of how the public school system was set up.
Hooker said she vowed to make a difference and enrolled in Elon’s graduate program for education.
“Tyronna was someone who put her all into everything that she did,” said Stephen Byrd, an assistant professor of education. “In her final internship before graduating, she chose to work with a group of young students with autism so that she could gain experience with a different population than she normally teaches.”
During her first year of teaching, Hooker said she was forced to change her mentality about interactions with students. “I came from a mindset of being in law enforcement,” she said. “People do what you tell them, there’s not a lot of free will. My first year was definitely the toughest.”
Hooker said within her classroom, she often notices that students have a strong desire to learn, regardless of what they do and do not have.
“I have to step back and look at the things that I take for granted,” she said. “It’s a reminder daily that we take things for granted and we don’t know where these kids are coming from. Embrace what you have and try to fill in the spaces.”
For Hennelly, a 23-year veteran of teaching in Stokes County, education was not her first choice of career either.
She planned to be a social worker but eventually changed her major to education when she realized that while social work wasn’t for her, she still wanted to work with children.
Hennelly said her participation in several internships, and her work with the grade level and subject area she planned to teach, equipped her with the necessary skills for a career in the classroom.
“We very much followed up with professors and advisers,” she said. “We met back on campus, talked about what was going on, problems we saw. I felt very well prepared.”
Immediately after completing her Elon education, Hennelly filled a vacant position at Stokes County, where she’s taught ever since.
She considers one of her best experiences to be when her entire 8th-grade algebra class passed their exams at the end of the year. “They all passed both tests, the 8th grade end-of-grade and the high school end-of-course,” she said. “They did very well. It was the first time algebra was taught in the middle school in 15 years.”
For teachers to be successful, Hennelly said, they should think of each child individually.
“Realize that each student is an individual and you have to become involved with the student and the school and the community,” she said.
- Story by Caitlin O’Donnell '13